It's January and you are committed to eating right. How does local food fit in to a healthy lifestyle? It provides more nutrients, for starters. Wintertime in Kentucky means the availability of acorn squash, butternut squash and other winter squashes, along with kale, lettuce, microgreens and mushrooms.
“Cooking more and eating with the seasons is great way to stay compliant with your New Year’s resolutions,” said Ashton Potter Wright, director of Local Food & Agricultural Development, an office within the mayor’s office in Lexington.
“Locally-grown, seasonal whole foods can be great additions to a healthy, well-balanced diet,” she said. “We are lucky that Kentucky farmers can grow a wide variety of produce and raise virtually every species of protein on fertile bluegrass pasture.”
Wright’s working definition of “local” means food and food- related products grown or raised in the state of Kentucky.
Local food is good for you to eat and it’s also good for the environment because it’s being driven much shorter distances from a farm to reach your table. Farm to table is a concept, a movement and an entire initiative within Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, thanks to Bluegrass Farm to Table. Wright is spearheading this effort with two dozen partners, including the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and its Kentucky Proud program.
“Bluegrass Farm to Table has worked with over 80 buyers, over 80 farmers in over 30 counties to generate at least $4 million in sales,” Wright said, and that’s a conservative monetary estimate.
Wright was hired by the Mayor’s Office within economic development in 2014 as the local food coordinator and yes, her job is as unique as it is fun. Not many other cities in the United States have a position in city government focused on agricultural economic development. In five years, she helped get the salad bar program at UK off the ground; she worked with the Lexington Convention Center board of directors to include local purchasing benchmarks in their new contract with food vendor Levy; and she’s working with Transylvania University and its food vendor, Bon Appétit, on their local sourcing program.
People who love local food have three favorite initials: CSA. Community supported agriculture. Farmers do the growing and you reap their rewards with a weekly drop-off (or pick-up) of produce. January is the time when farms start their CSA signups for the peak growing season, which is typically May to October, although some start as early as February. Bluegrass Farm to Table’s website has a list of CSAs with lots of details, including farms like Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Greenhouse 17 in Lexington, North Farm in NoLi, Butler Farms and Triple S Farm in Paris, Teal Tractor CSA at Walnut Lawn Farm in Fayette County, and Triple J Farm in Scott County.
“Individuals can sign up for CSA on their own but we are also working to recruit more employers to participate in the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition, a workplace wellness CSA program where employers incentivize their employees to participate in CSA,” Wright said. “Our partners at UK have found that employers who offer the CSA subsidy to employees see statistically significant decreases in medical and pharmaceutical expenditures, which is of particular importance to self-insured employers.” Large employers like the University of Kentucky and the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government have offered this program to their employees for the past several years with great success.
Wright practices at home what she preaches at work. “During the winter we love eating greens, sweet potatoes, locally raised meat and eggs,” she said. “Many farms also process and preserve tomatoes and other vegetables that can be enjoyed year-round. Certain varieties of local apples, particularly the Goldrush variety, can be purchased in bulk in the fall and kept in the refrigerator in airtight containers and can be enjoyed throughout the winter.”
Local food is good for the economic health of the area, because shoppers are supporting farm families in the community.
“If you want to make a difference in local food movement, put your money where your mouth is,” she said. “If every family in Kentucky spent 10% of their annual food budget on Kentucky farm products, it would keep over $1 billion in our local economy. For the average family, a 10% budget shift means spending only $14 a week on local food.”
How to buy local food? Shop at a farmers market. Dine out at restaurants that source from Kentucky farmers. Sign up for a CSA. Grow some veggies in your own backyard.
Bluegrass Farm to Table // bgfarmtotable.org
Find a CSA // bgfarmtotable.org/find-1
Local restaurants // beyondgrits.com
Kentucky Farm Share Coalition (CSAs for employers who want to support workplace wellness.) // kyfarmshare.org